Q & A with William Reeder, Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts

Posted: September 4, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Editor’s note: The Daily Gazette is publishing interviews with 11 deans, 2 institute directors, and the vice president for University Life focusing on what was successful in their departments last year and what the George Mason community can expect this year. This is the 11th article in the series, which will conclude with an interview with President Alan Merten.

By Colleen Kearney Rich

What would you say were the high points or successes of the 2002-03 academic year?

The College of Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) and the Center for the Arts (CFA) have weathered the budgetary storms. We had a very good season at the CFA and managed to balance the CFA budget. This season we enjoyed strong ticket sales–stronger than ever before–despite the snow and the sniper. A big part of that success was the programming, which is influenced by two factors–understanding the market and the growth of the market itself.

Bill Reeder
Bill Reeder

Last year CFA completed a series of focus groups using Surgall & Associates. They found that we have a very strong audience base in a 15-mile radius and that we were becoming increasingly successful in reaching that audience and making our presence known. The focus groups also found that there is a positive attitude toward CFA in the region. When asked to describe the Kennedy Center using an animal, focus group participants used the words dinosaur, whale, or lion. When asked to describe CFA, words such as puppy, duckling, and tadpole kept coming up. So we are young in years, but viewed with deep affection.

The work of our volunteers also had a tremendous impact. The Friends of the Center for the Arts, formerly known as the Arts Associates, has seen tremendous growth within its own ranks–increasing from 50 to 250 members. The Friends has also moved from serving as a social and networking organization to becoming an annual fund-raising vehicle. Last year, the Friends expanded its level of donor categories by adding $1,000; this year, they added $2,500, and they already have one donor in this category. And the group has shown predictability, so this kind of success is definitely repeatable. Because we have the unusual support of the university, the center has never depended upon fund-raising as many arts organizations do. So it is a relatively new area for us.

Our advisory board has clarified its mission and set up subcommittees. The subcommittees are affinity groups aligned with each department (Art and Visual Technology, Dance, Music, and Theater) and Theater of the First Amendment. To be on the board, fund-raising levels are required, and there are reserved slots for members of affinity groups.

I am also really grateful for the support from the university. Not only do we enjoy attendance at our performances from every unit at Mason, we have people asking us for entertainment such as string quartets for important receptions and “decorative” support from our Art and Visual Technology (AVT) Department. We have found the most exciting partner for AVT in the Century Club with the Art@Work program. A number of businesses have expressed interest in hosting exhibits of student work. We believe we may have enough interest to do an art auction, and faculty and students have offered to make work available.

What are some of your goals for the upcoming academic year?

This year we will engage in strategic planning for Academic V, which is an arts building. That will consume a lot of our efforts. We can grow to a level of real national prominence with planning. With the additional space, many of our goals become realizable.

Within the college, we produce more than 90 student presentations a year. I would like to strengthen that infrastructure, the backbone (costumes, set design, etc.) that goes into those productions. We think we can do more, but we have to get the alignment just right. We are working toward a major fully produced student musical once a year in the Concert Hall.

An original piece of work?

Could be original work. I wouldn’t rule that out. We shouldn’t rule that out because we have seen success we have had with the Mary Hall Surface/David Maddox productions. That would be more challenging, and it might take a few years before we are at the level we would need to be in our production capabilities.

We have a growing artistic community across campus and I would like to make it possible for more people to be engaged, to reach out to students who are not majoring in the arts. That’s one of the reasons we are considering a “popular studies palette” to have courses available to students who want to sing or act, but who are majoring in something else.

We are also proposing a master’s degree in arts administration. I see our laboratory/gallery as a vital environment for this kind of degree program. We are also developing relationships with the community colleges and working on articulation agreements to increase the number of transfer students. In the last several years there has been an explosion of arts programming in community college settings in Virginia and Maryland. We want George Mason to be an attractive destination for these students. Right now, I am conducting a survey to figure out what kind of articulation agreements should we have in place and with which schools. With this growth also comes expanded employment opportunities for our students, both in teaching and in community-based arts leadership roles. We have a growing number of arts students pursuing doctoral degrees in the Community College Education program, and I think this dovetails nicely with what we are trying to do in arts management. I think we have something to contribute and perhaps something to learn.

We are also keeping an eye on our relationship with K-12 schools. We are working on an art education minor for those Mason students pursuing teacher certification or specialty education degrees. We are also deepening our relationship with the Fairfax Academy (the arts magnet high school at Fairfax High School). And of course, the arts center for the Prince William Campus is still moving forward. Fund-raising is still in the quiet phrase, but we have a dynamic board in place and architectural drawings are being made.

Are you adding any new faculty/staff members that the university community should be aware of?

We are pleased that Meg Brindle has joined us as an associate professor of organizational management. She will direct the new master’s degree in arts administration program. We have also consciously hired several rising stars–people with strong academic backgrounds, who are at the beginning of their national careers. I see this as a critical part of the succession and transition within the college. We need to invest continuously in the next generation to avoid a massive letdown when some of our long-time faculty begin to retire. We need to maintain that artistic energy. We have Jandos Rothstein, the award-winning art director of Washington City Paper, coming on board to teach in AVT. In the Music Department, we have Lisa Billingham, associate professor of choral music education, and Rachel Bergman, assistant professor of music theory.

Where do you see the college in five years?

We have found that summer camps are a huge growth opportunity for the college. This past summer we experienced tremendous success in terms of enrollment with music summer programs. In addition to our longstanding Orff Shulwerk Teacher Training Program, we added the Potomac Summer Music Academy, thanks to the financial support of Don and Nancy de Laski. They were instrumental in helping us launch the academy, which provided programs for music educators as well as high school and college music students. Don is a member of the George Mason University Foundation Board of Trustees, and Nancy is on our advisory board. As our faculty capacity expands and as administration of such programming matures, I anticipate we will become a major venue in the country for summer arts programs.

In the spring, the Dance Department will be hosting the Mid-Atlantic Dance Festival, another great opportunity for us. We are a dynamic and diverse community, and we have the ideal circumstances.

My hope is that as the philanthropic resources increase, our ability to commission work will also increase. I would like to apply our philanthropic success toward more and longer artistic residencies and to exchanges between audiences, artists, and our students. I am just as excited by the American Youth Philharmonic as I am by the New York Philharmonic. When people come here and find themselves included in the Mason “fruit salad,” they will go away taking something that is the ideal. We have so much to work with, and the best is still ahead.

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